A proposed Pacific-based Super Rugby team is effectively dead in the water after failing to find the required funding.
The Fiji Rugby Union have also pulled their support for the bid, leaving the team without a prospective home base.
A feasibility study, commissioned by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year, recommended a Pacific side be based in Suva and also play home games in Samoa and Tonga.
But Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke, who’s been involved in the ongoing bid discussions, said the Fiji Rugby Union pulled the plug after the bid was unable to attract the minimum annual investment of 12 million US dollars demanded by SANZAAR.
“In the end, especially the MFAT bid which was led by Fiji and included Samoa and Tonga, I actually think a sensible decision was made there,” he said.
“SANZAAR have a fairly high bar, in terms of the financial needs of the team to be able to compete and be sustainable in that competition.
“The decision was made within the Pacific that, really, financially it didn’t stack up and the losers in that, if they were to put all their eggs in that basket of having a franchise team out of there, would probably be community rugby and club rugby.
“And Super Rugby wouldn’t allow them to have the necessary funds to be able to service the game at those levels so a sensible decision, although very disappointing that the bar is so high, was to pull out from that bid.”
Aayden Clarke said there was huge interest in establishing a Pacific-based team and while they had secured a lot of guaranteed funding it simply wasn’t enough to give SANZAAR the assurances they required.
“There was huge interest but based on conversations I’ve been involved with lately it’s pretty much done. There was a lot of will but ball is back in SANZAAR’s court,” he said.
“A considerable amount had to come from corporate support – not to say they wouldn’t have got it.
“In discussions with the commercial teams in those unions there was a bit of confidence in there that if they did get the tick (from SANZAAR) that they would then have a few years to put that in and get that sorted and I believe there was a few underwritings happening but overall it’s more than that and really the financial bar was just one too high to get to.”
Super Rugby was cut from 18 to 15 teams last season and the Sydney Morning Herald reported this week that Japan’s Sunwolves were also facing the axe from 2021, with plans to ditch the conference-based system and return to a straight round-robin.
Super Rugby CEO Andy Marinos rejected those claims and insisted no final decisions have been made on the future of the competition.
“As a business we are presently looking at our future competition structures from 2021 onwards, a matter that has been widely reported in the media.,” he said.
“We have not reached any definitive decisions around our future competition including the number of teams that will participate in the future structure.
“We will continue to engage with our stakeholders specifically the national unions (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and our broadcasters, as we plan ahead for the future and the next broadcast cycle that commences in 2021.”
Aayden Clarke there is a strong desire from players to return to a round robin format and said any reduction in the number of teams or games make the prospect of a Pacific Super Rugby franchise even less likely.
“Obviously to make a round-robin work, which from a players perspective everybody wanted, it really doesn’t work with 15 teams – it really had to be 14 or 16,” he said.
“16 makes it possible to add an additional team but then we come around the financial difficulties so, look, I’m not sure where SANZAAR are at at the moment and if it was to be 14 teams then obviously that means culling somebody.
“Which makes it pretty hard to add somebody extra in, unless there’s some massive movements within the tectonic plates of the region but that doesn’t seem to be happening so at the moment if you can’t fit them in then it’s probably not going to work.”